BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was a roller coaster day for ThorSport Racing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series regular season finale on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
As Grant Enfinger collected the regular-season championship for the organization, Austin Hill’s victory in the Irish Hills meant no first-time 2019 winner — thereby punching Matt Crafton’s ticket into the playoffs on points.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing after Crafton got into the back of Tyler Ankrum’s No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota before even getting to the line for a restart with two laps remaining. That contacted spurred a seven-car pileup on the frontstretch.
“The one I really have to say sorry to out here is Ankrum,” Crafton said. “We had a phenomenal, phenomenal restart before that, that shoved him out to the lead. I think he just spun his tires just a little bit when I got to him and went to try to help him. Nothing ill-intended there. I was just trying to help him out and shove him up to the lead and maybe get me to second.”
Unfortunately for ThorSport, there was only room for three of the team’s four drivers in the postseason with Johnny Sauter previously locked into the seven-race stretch with a win at Dover. That left Ben Rhodes as the odd man out.
Rhodes flexed muscle for the majority of Saturday afternoon’s 100-lap event, leading 15 laps and swapping positions in the top 10. But a punctured tire forced Rhodes to pit in the final stage, dashing the No. 99 driver’s playoffs hopes after entering the day in a must-win situation.
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“If we didn’t have bad luck this year, we’d have no luck at all for the season,” Rhodes said. “I don’t know why that is. I do believe that you make your own luck and we’ve been in bad situations, whether that would be parts failures or tires going down. … It seems like for whatever reason, bad luck has found us this year.”
Just because Rhodes isn’t in the playoffs doesn’t mean he’s still focused on his singular goal for this season: a victory. And he’ll do whatever it takes to get one.
“Get out of my way because we’re going to win as many races as we can,” Rhodes said. “We’re basically going to be on the Kyle Busch strategy. We’re going to take advantage on pit stops and we’re going after every win we can get.”
With the eight-driver playoff field set, defending Gander Trucks champion Brett Moffitt is the first seed, with Enfinger three points back before the first-round bout kicks off at Bristol on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Crafton now sits in sixth, 11 points back, while Sauter is 13 points behind in seventh.